Fans across the country tuned in Sunday afternoon to an all-too-predictable finish to the Jets’ 2021 campaign: A blowout loss to a division rival.
The Jets lost to the Buffalo Bills 27-10 on a blustery, cold day at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo, N.Y. on Sunday, Jan. 9.
The Jets were shellacked by a strong Buffalo defense, only able to muster a franchise-low 53 total yards of offense.
The offense, fraught with injuries, was unable to sustain long drives. Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was sacked nine times.
The Bills clinched the AFC East with their win. They will be facing either the Los Angeles Chargers or the New England Patriots in a wild card game next week.
The Jets capped off their 2021 season with a record of four wins and thirteen losses. It wasn’t pretty. Not by any means.
But they did double their win total from 2020.
And the organization is trending up.
After a muddy rookie season that involved injuries, interceptions, and incredible plays, Jets quarterback Zach Wilson appears to be the new captain at the helm.
Wilson began his professional football career with an abysmal start, tossing 9 interceptions in his first six games. The Jets went 1-5 in that stretch, their sole win against a Tennessee Titans team with a depleted receiving core. During that game, Wilson threw for two touchdowns and one interception but completed 61.76% of his passes for 297 yards, his highest amount to date. His quarterback rating (QBR) was 97.3.
Then, during a week 7 bout with the division-rival New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., Wilson sprained his PCL after taking a hit from Patriots defensive end Matthew Judon. Quarterback Mike White finished the game, a 54-13 loss that sent the Jets to a 1-7 start.
The four-game stretch that Wilson missed was, in a word, chaos. Backup quarterback ‘Magic’ Mike White stunned the Cincinnati Bengals, with fans chanting his name throughout the stadium. “Mike White Mania” slowly transitioned to “Josh Johnson Mania,” with White getting injured in his second career start. Johnson, the epitome of a journeyman quarterback, looked solid in replacement in a primetime game against the Indianapolis Colts (a game that the Jets lost, of course).
White’s return came against the Buffalo Bills, where he promptly threw four interceptions in a blowout loss. Joe Flacco, whom the Jets had traded a sixth-round draft pick for, won the starting job. He lost his game, a home battle against the Miami Dolphins, too.
Wilson returned on the road against the Houston Texans. He played much more conservatively and managed the game, leading the Jets to victory. However, the defense played well, and the team rushed for 157 total yards to Wilson’s 109 passing.
Wilson could only improve from there, and, save a dismal performance against New Orleans, did. He began to look more comfortable in the pocket, cycling through his reads and finding the open man.
His glaring weaknesses that were present during the pre-injury stretch seemed to fade. He made the ‘gimme’ throws that he was missing. He didn’t escape a clean pocket. He took calculated risks with his legs.
As the Jets offense’s production decreased, in no small part due to the injuries to wide receivers Corey Davis and Elijah Moore, who both suffered season-ending injuries, Wilson’s stats suffered. But it was hardly his fault.
Wilson lost Moore, Davis, Jamison Crowder, and standout Braxton Berrios prior to kickoff against the Bills.
His WR5, Keelan Cole, became his WR1. He was throwing to Keelan Cole, Jeff Smith, Denzel Mims, and Tarik Black. While those receivers are good enough to make it to the NFL, there was a reason why they weren’t starting to begin the season.
On several of Wilson’s sacks, the offensive line held up fine.
The receivers just couldn’t get open.
Wilson’s final stat line on the season wasn’t fantastic. Over thirteen games, he completed 55.61% of his passes for 2,334 yards. He tossed nine touchdowns and threw eleven interceptions. His quarterback rating was 69.69.
But stats aren’t always indicative of performance.
Wilson went toe-to-toe with the greatest quarterback of all time in Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, narrowly losing after Brady led a game-winning drive down the field. He forced Antonio Brown into retirement mid-game. He looked cool, collected, and manufactured long, sustaining drives.
Wilson did not throw an interception during the final five games. He only threw two interceptions in the seven games he played post-injury.
While the jury is still out until the wins start rolling in, Wilson looked like he could be the Jets quarterback for the future.
The Jets are in a very good position to succeed. General manager Joe Douglas has traded in a savvy manner to acquire a plethora of draft picks.
The Jets will have the 4th overall pick, the 10th overall pick (via Seattle), the 35th overall pick, and the 38th overall pick (via Carolina). They are the only team to pick four times inside the top-40.
They also have the ability, with certain cuts, to boost their cap space up to $70 million entering free agency.
They have installed a culture, have stability at the head coaching position, and a quarterback.
They’re set up to succeed, and perhaps make a playoff appearance in 2022.
Now, Joe Douglas has to execute.